After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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When you think of popular credit card networks, Visa and Mastercard probably come to mind first. But are there other major companies that dominate the credit card market? What are the most popular credit card issuers? Are Americans choosing general-purpose cards that can be used at a variety of retailers, or gravitating towards retail cards that can only be used at specific stores?
There’s an 84% chance you have at least 1 credit card, per the Federal Reserve,¹ and according to Experian,² the average American has 3.84 cards. This means that you have a lot of options when it comes to which types of cards you open, how many you have, and how much you decide to spend on each card. Read on to find out which types of cards are the most popular.
A credit card network sets the terms for credit card transactions, authorizes them, and processes them. The credit card market in the U.S. has primarily 4 major players: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. These differ primarily in terms of global acceptance and perks, but also by market share.
Hot Tip: Still confused about the difference between credit card networks and issuers? Don’t worry — we have a guide for you! Check out our list of major credit card companies and card networks, including history, most popular cards, and more.
In terms of purchasing volume, Visa is the clear leader with more than $2 trillion in 2021. Mastercard is the second-closest competitor with over $1 trillion. American Express and Discover round out the networks at $892 billion and $182 billion, respectively.
Did the pandemic impact the way people spend? The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact across the board. People spent less money overall in 2020 compared to 2019, but purchase volume saw an increase in 2021. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover consumer, business, and commercial cards issued in the U.S. generated over $8 trillion in purchase volume in 2021. This was a 25.1% increase over 2020.
Visa is the clear frontrunner in terms of purchase volume in 2021. The same can be said over the past 5 years as well — with Visa always maintaining at least 50% of the market share among the 4 major networks. Visa was steadily increasing its market share over the years, growing from 50.57% in 2017 to 53.99% in 2020, but in 2021 dropped to 52.6%, just slightly lower than the 2020 percentage.
Mastercard has been consistent at around 22% of the market share across the past 5 years, while American Express has declined slightly from 22.85% in 2017 to 19.6% in 2021. Discover, while the smallest in terms of the major networks, has held steady around 4% of the market share over the past 5 years.
So who holds the top spot for the number of credit cards in circulation in the U.S.?
Visa comes in at the top, at close to 50% of all cards in circulation in 2021. This lead has slowly declined over the past 5 years, falling from a high of 52.84% in 2016. People appear to be gradually moving towards Mastercard as its share has steadily increased over the years, while American Express and Discover remain fairly consistent by percentage over this same time period.
Credit card issuers, such as banks, retailers, or credit unions, issue credit cards to consumers. There are a lot of credit card issuers, but still only a handful with the largest piece of the market. Thus, we’ve limited our data to the top 15.
We’ve included both general-purpose and store card issuers. For example, issuers such as Synchrony Financial, Citi Retail Services, and Alliance Data Systems all issue store cards for businesses such as Old Navy, Sam’s Club, and more.
Outstanding balance shows how much much of your credit limit you have available — and credit limits are set by the card issuer. This data factors in both people who pay off their balance on their cards each month as well as people who are carrying a balance on their cards.
What does an outstanding balance include?
Chase was the largest issuer in terms of outstanding balances in 2021 at $154.30 billion. Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, and U.S. Bank round out the top 5. There are a lot more than 15 card issuers, but when you combine the outstanding balances from the remaining issuers, it all adds up to less than any of the top 5 issuers.
While all issuers saw a drop in purchasing volume in 2020, purchase volume in 2021 increased. American Express and Chase saw the biggest jump in numbers from 2020 to 2021.
Chase and American Express were 2021’s top issuers in terms of market share by purchase volume, both with a volume of about $850 to $950 billion. In fact, these 2 issuers were the top 2 over the past 5 years as well. American Express was previously the leader in this category, but this flipped for the first time in 2020 due to the larger-than-average decline in purchasing volume, as noted above.
Citibank, Bank of America, and Capital One made up the second tier of issuers, hovering in the $400 billion range. The remaining 3 banks in the last tier include U.S. Bank, Discover, and Wells Fargo in the $130 to $180 billion range.
While Americans may have spent less on their credit cards in 2020 compared to prior years, there is a clear comeback for 2021. There is no doubt that credit cards are still the dominant way to pay for purchases. Overall, the differences between cards, including things like global acceptance, perks, and rewards, lead to variations in market share between these networks and issuers.
And when it comes to market share in the credit card market, there are definitely a few key players — both by network and issuer. Visa and Mastercard have reigned supreme on the network side, while general-purpose cards from Chase, Citi, and Bank of America make up the biggest chunk on the card issuer side.
There are many ways to measure market share for credit cards. Visa makes up the largest market share for networks in terms of cards in circulation as well as purchase volume in 2020.
Chase is the largest issuer in 2021 by both purchase volume and outstanding balance.
Visa is the biggest credit card network in the U.S. in terms of both purchase volume and credit cards in circulation in 2021. Visa has made up up over 50% of both of these statistics for the past 5 years.
In 2021, the 4 biggest credit card networks in the U.S. (in order) were Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Visa and Mastercard combined to make up over 75% of the market share, while American Express and Discover make up a much smaller portion of the market.
In 2020, Chase is the bank that issued the most credit cards — both in terms of purchase volume and outstanding balances. It gets a bit complicated as American Express is both a credit card network AND an issuer. Until 2020, American Express was the largest issuer of credit cards in the U.S.
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